For visitors from overseas, the North York Moors National Park is less well known than its westerly neighbours; the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District. But that relative anonymity means you can enjoy beautiful and varied scenery, fantastic walking country, fascinating historic sites and gorgeous coastline, while avoiding many of the summer crowds (although there are some exceptions!).
If time allows, it is easy to spend several days exploring the area or, if time is short, the southern sections of the park are only a quick hop from the popular city of York so, whatever your time frame, here are some of our favourite spots to aim for.
Favourite historic site: Rievaulx Abbey
Ruins of medieval abbeys are scattered across northern England and southern Scotland – the result of Henry VIII’s reformation of the church and the destruction of many monasteries and abbeys.
Rievaulx Abbey, tucked into a sheltered valley on the western edge of the North York Moors, is undoubtedly one of the most impressive and atmospheric to visit. Now looked after by English Heritage, you can park at the abbey itself or take the lovely walk from the nearby market town of Helmsley (see below).
While in the area, you can also visit the ruins of nearby Byland Abbey - less complete than Rievaulx, it maintains some stunning early gothic architecture which inspired the famous Rose Window at York Minster – and Rievaulx Terrace, landscaped gardens created in the mid-eighteenth century as a place of leisure for Thomas Duncombe II, the owner of the nearby Duncombe Estate. The terrace offers gentle walking, interesting Palladian style follies and fantastic views down onto the abbey.
Favourite Town: Helmsley
Close to Rievaulx Abbey, so easily visited on the same outing, the charming market town of Helmsley is always a popular stop. The cobbled market square is surrounded by charming stone cottages, now filled with interesting shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants.
The crumbling ruins of Helmsley’s Norman Castle still watch over the town, which you can visit and take an audio tour to find out more about the history of the caste and area. Also visit Helmsley’s Walled Gardens, with its great mixture of flowers, fruits, vegetables and herbs and a charming position tucked just under the castle walls.
If you have time to get over to the coast (a lovely drive across open moorland), the seaside town of Whitby is a must visit. Certainly not ‘off-the-beaten-track’ (it can be hectic in summer!), Whitby, with its blend of traditional seaside resort, hill-top abbey ruins, historic lanes and reputedly the best fish and chips in the country, deserves its popularity.
Favourite Walk: Hutton-le-Hole and Lastingham
Hutton-le-Hole is the quintessential moors village, nestled on the edge of open moorland, with a stream running through the village green where sheep graze surrounded by chocolate box cottages.
It is a popular spot and home to the interesting Ryedale Folk Museum, several craft shops, cafes and a pub!
This easy 4 mile walk takes in country lanes, moorland paths, quiet fields, lovely views and the charming village of Lastingham. Smaller and quieter than Hutton-le-Hole, the highlights of Lastingham are St Mary’s church, with its eleventh century crypt, and the friendly Blacksmiths Arms, a great stop for lunch, a pint of local ale or an ice cream!
See the link below for walk directions.
Favourite Activity: North Yorkshire Moors Railway
Chugging its way between the market town of Pickering, on the park’s southern edge, and ever popular Whitby, the North York Moors railway is a great day out for a bit of nostalgia and always popular with young and old.
Hop on one of the regular steam trains and journey through the open moorland scenery, considering hopping off at one of the pretty villages, including Grosmont, well-known as the setting for the 90s hit TV show, Heartbeat, or making it all the way to the bustling seaside town of Whitby for some fish and chips!
Favourite Pub: The Durham Ox
Just outside the National Park, in an area known as the Howardian Hills, the Durham Ox is the focal point of the lovely hillside village of Crayke, with its eclectic collection of architecture making a charming scene and the hillside location offering great views across the surrounding countryside.
The pub is a fantastic combination of traditional features and modern service. Lots of local ales are on offer, as well as a strong wine list, and food focuses on local produce and is a cut well above the average pub fayre.
The Durham Ox is also a good place to base yourself to explore the area – its mini ‘cottages’ at the back of the pub are a relaxing spot to spend a few days.
Favourite Restaurant: The Black Swan
In an unassuming position in the tiny village of Oldstead, right on the south-western edge of the park, the Black Swan initially looks like a simple (albeit very inviting) village inn. But step inside and you are treated to one of the country’s best restaurants, already awarded a Michelin Star and going from strength to strength.
The restaurant is run by the Banks family, who own the farm next door, and the stunning cooking is led by Tommy, one of the sons of the family who, as a self-taught chef, has really created something special at the Black Swan.
There is a big focus on local produce, and they grow many of the vegetables used in the restaurant in the kitchen garden just outside. This isn’t food for those that like it plain and simple, but for a real treat, the fantastic tasting menu is hard to beat. Booking in advance is essential.
If you would like some help planning your trip to the North York Moors or anywhere else in Britain, just get in touch.